Videos of a tense stand-off between the Assam Rifles and a group of armed men in Manipur’s border town Moreh have emerged on social media, raising questions over how a few armed men stopped the security forces from moving around in the town just a stone’s throw away from conflict-hit Myanmar.
The incident happened on January 17, the day two Manipur Police commandos were killed in action while returning fire at insurgents. A day after the gunfight, Manipur Security Adviser Kuldiep Singh had told reporters that “numerous Kuki militants started firing at commando posts in three locations”, and the commandos being at a lower elevation were “sitting ducks”.
In the videos that surfaced on social media today, which sources said have been verified as taken on January 17, Assam Rifles soldiers inside an armoured vehicle were heard shouting warnings at the armed men who were blocking their way.
“Please go to the side. Don’t do this. Don’t fire at our vehicle,” a soldier is heard saying.
Then the armed men in camouflaged battledress, numbering some 10-15, surrounded the armoured vehicle and waved at the soldiers to not press on.
At this, the soldier inside the vehicle shouts, “All of you stop firing. Aap logon ko nuksaan hoga (it won’t be good for you). Get to the side. Let our vehicle go. Why don’t you understand?”
The Assam Rifles uses an evolved Indian version of the South African-origin Casspir mine-protected vehicle.
The armed men brought out two crude rocket launchers – one was pointed at the vehicle directly from the front, while the other was aimed at the vehicle from higher ground on the right.
Another man armed with what appeared to be a foreign-origin M series (M4, M16, etc) assault rifle brought a handheld improvised explosive device (IED), stood near the front right tyre, and gestured as if he would throw the IED under the vehicle.
“IED leke aa gaya,” another soldier inside the mine-protected vehicle is heard saying.
Unable to proceed, the vehicle reversed slowly on the inclined gravel path which did not have enough space for a full turn. The armed men continued to follow, guns pointed at the vehicle. Another armed man was seen moving the crude rocket launcher to keep it aimed at the vehicle.
The Assam Rifles have in the past rescued police commandos pinned down with suppressive fire by hill-based insurgents in and around Moreh.
The January 17 attack at the police commandos involved rocket-propelled grenades fired by insurgents. Kuldiep Singh, the state Security Adviser, had said there was a possibility that Myanmar-based insurgents may have entered Manipur, but there was no evidence yet.
At least 25 Kuki insurgent groups have signed the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the Centre and the state.
Under the SoO agreement, the insurgents are housed in designated camps. There have been allegations that full attendance at many of the SoO camps has not been observed.
A retired top-ranking army officer from Manipur, Lieutenant General LN Singh (retired), blamed the ineffectiveness of the SoO agreement for the rising threat by “Kuki militants”.
“Kuki militants, encouraged by immunity from SoO agreement and leniency (sic) shown on them, are now directly threatening other security forces. More than 15 years of SoO, how much more? There has to be a timeline. Someone has to answer as to how much more taxpayers’ money will be spent,” Lt General Singh said in a post on the social media platform X.
Tensions between the hill-majority Kuki-Zo tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis have been lingering on nine months since clashes broke out between the two communities over disagreements on land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies.
Over 180 people have died in the violence, and thousands have been internally displaced. The two communities are sharply divided now, with people from either community not going to areas where those from the other community live.